Let us all rejoice that the Baton Rouge serial killer case appears to have been solved, but please -- please -- let us not be duped by some politicians now elbowing each other to grab credit or bask in the glow. The truth is this: Some of those preening for the cameras actually helped the killer stay at large for so long.
First, let's give credit where it's due: Attorney General Richard Ieyoub's office broke the case wide open on May 5 -- after the serial killer task force refused Ieyoub's earlier offers of assistance. (See Commentary, page 7.) One of Ieyoub's veteran investigators, Dannie Mixon, had worked on the case of two women in Zachary who had been murdered in 1998, and he recently received a tip about Derrick Todd Lee possibly being the killer. Mixon compared Lee's known criminal history with the facts of the serial killer case, then got a court order to swab Lee for a DNA check.
That swab tied Lee to the serial murders.
Ieyoub gives Mixon all the credit, and he has been low-key on the subject of the task force snubbing his (and others') offers of assistance early on. Give Ieyoub credit for that, too, but don't let the task force off the hook. The truth is, the task force seemed more concerned about its turf (and ensuing credit) than in solving the case. It did get assistance from the FBI, which profiled the killer as a white man who is clumsy with women. Lee, the accused, is black and a charmer. Thanks a lot for that one.
One noted criminologist, Peter Scharf of UNO, said the task force had "tunnel vision." That's putting it mildly.
And what of the other politicians?
Let's start with Gov. Warbucks, who typically gave lip service on camera while gutting the effort elsewhere. In 1997, the Legislature passed a law establishing a statewide DNA databank of sexual and violent offenders. Among the crimes for which an arrested person's DNA could be collected was that of stalking -- a crime for which Lee was convicted in December 1999.
Although the law was passed in 1997, it was known that it would take up to two years to get the program up and running -- once funding started -- so the law's implementation was delayed until Sept. 1, 1999. But then funding never materialized. Where does funding start? With the governor, who submits the budget.
From 1997 until now, the Foster administration proposed no money whatsoever for the DNA bank. But that didn't stop Foster from grandstanding about the serial killer.
Are you sick to your stomach yet?
Wait. There's more.
Some of Foster's legislative allies -- even some who are now running for governor -- introduced a resolution in 1999 (the year the DNA tracking law was supposed to take effect) to suspend the law for a year. Obviously, neither Foster nor the lawmakers considered the DNA program important enough to put in the state's $15 billion budget. So they just suspended it. (See HCR 40 of the 1999 regular session.)
Had the law not been suspended, and had Foster and lawmakers funded the DNA databank, Lee's DNA would have been collected when he pleaded guilty to stalking in December 1999. Instead, the program remains unfunded and Lee remained at large as the murders continued.
Who are these legislators who led the move to suspend the DNA tracking law? Among them are the following candidates for governor:
· Then-House Speaker Hunt Downer, a Republican from Houma.
· Then-Senate President Randy Ewing, a Democrat from Quitman.
· Current Senate President John Hainkel, a Republican from New Orleans.
Joining them were Reps. Charles DeWitt (the current House speaker), Chuck McMains, Juba Diez and Carl Crane, and Sens. Jay Dardenne, Robert Barham and Tom Schedler. McMains, Crane and Dardenne are from Baton Rouge, where most of the murdered women lived.
So, let us rejoice that the case appears to have been solved. But let us also remember who solved the case -- and who made it possible for the killer to remain at large.-->
- Attorney General Richard Ieyoub's office broke the case wide open on May 5 -- after the serial killer task force refused Ieyoub's earlier offers of assistance.